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Eagles Get Nasty On Line

The Eagles waited, and waited and waited through the unusual first round in this 2011 NFL draft and when it was time to step up with the 23rd selection in the draft, they selected ...

An offensive lineman?

"We felt Danny was as good a football player as there was in the draft," said Reid. "I know it's not a glamour position, but it's a position that is very crucial in this sport. I wanted to make sure that we maintained the offensive line ... He brings a toughness and a blue-collar attitude to that offensive line."

He also brings a huge, huge, huge upside. Watkins played hockey and rugby growing up in British Columbia and then took the professional route as a firefighter before he was discovered and offered a football scholarship to Baylor University.

The rest, as they say, could be history.

Watkins started at left tackle at Baylor and worked himself into a first-round talent. The Eagles saw him -- maybe, even, they obsessed over him -- after he jumped off the game tape they watched. Reid said he watched every game Watkins played at Baylor twice, and then they eyed him as a guard at the Senior Bowl and he dominated. Watkins played both guard spots at the Senior Bowl after having never played the position.

And he killed people.

"It went well there," said Watkins. "I'm a guy who likes to line up six inches away from somebody and go after it."

Reid emphasized Watkins' toughness and his tenacity, but also highlighted great athletic ability. After thinking about a few scenarios to move up in the first round, the Eagles decided to stay put. They had a choice of linemen from which to choose at 23, and went with the guy who was there no-doubt-about-it choice: Watkins, who initially comes in and will get a look at guard but who can also step out and play tackle.

If you think guard wasn't a need here, you haven't been watching. The Eagles haven't been physical enough at the position, and they suffered in short-yardage rushing opportunities and in the red zone. Watkins, if he lives up to the expectations the Eagles have, could step right in and start and be a physical presence that the Eagles haven't had at the position.

One national draft observer, Rick Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News, thinks Watkins has "star" written all over him.

"Watkins is the safest pick in the entire draft — the one player you can confidently say will be in the Pro Bowl in 2012," wrote Gosselin in his mock draft. "He's the best guard on the board, and some NFL teams were looking at him as both a center and tackle."

Watkins begins his NFL career at age 26, but he has no wear and tear. He has only played four seasons. The sense here is that fabled offensive line coach Howard Mudd thinks he has a young, talented and pliable talent with which to work. Mudd signed off on Watkins, and that's good enough for me.

The first round raced by on Thursday night as teams loaded up early on quarterbacks and few deals were made. The Eagles waited until two minutes were on their 10-minute clock to turn in Watkins' name, just in case some team bowled them over with an offer. Nobody did.

And Watkins is an Eagle.

And the Eagles are really, really pleased.

"This is just one piece of it," said Reid. "We know we have more to do."

That's the thing here: The Eagles are going to address other positions. They still have nine draft picks to go. They have free agency in front of them. They're going to hit the defense heavily. What they did on day one of the draft -- using a first-round pick on an offensive lineman for the first time since 2004 (Shawn Andrews) -- was to add a starter at a position of huge need.

Now it's on to the rest of the roster. There is so much going on here now that the offseason has taken a dramatic turn with the ruling that players can now report to their team facilities and have conditioning programs begin and with post-draft camps a week away, that it's difficult to focus in on one thing.

Let's talk about some of the other items here ...

  • Since no veteran players were permitted to be traded, there was no talk about quarterback Kevin Kolb between teams. Reid said he would keep his ears open, and he will, but four teams used first-round draft picks on quarterbacks. There is still expected to be a lot of interest in Kolb, but the Eagles aren't necessarily dealing their young quarterback. He is a valuable piece here.
  • Why not take a cornerback? The Eagles could have traded up and acquired Prince Amukamara, who went to the Giants with the 20th pick. But they stayed put and took Watkins even with Colorado's Jimmy Smith on the board. Does that mean they are satisfied with the cornerback spot? Maybe, maybe not. I expect the Eagles to address cornerback at some point in this offseason. Remember, Thursday was only one piece of an extensive puzzle.
  • Players are welcome to report to the NovaCare Complex on Friday morning and Reid and his staff are prepared. Reid held staff meetings on Thursday to go over the rules and he understands what the team can, and cannot, do with the players.
  • Does Watkins walk right into a starting job at right guard? He'll have a shot. The Eagles didn't seem to show a lot of interest in either Max Jean-Gilles or Nick Cole, both of whom are due to become free agents. At right tackle, look for a battle between Winston Justice, King Dunlap and maybe even Austin Howard.
  • Shocking to you that Da'Quan Bowers is still on the board? Not if his medical records are as scary as everyone says. What it says to me is that all of these mock drafts, on many of which had Bowers going No. 1 a month ago, are just guesswork.
  • NFL Network's Mike Mayock, a guest on Eagles Live! a couple of weeks ago, said then it would be wise for the team to take an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. He had nothing but high praise for Watkins after the Eagles made the pick. "An excellent pick for the Eagles," said Mayock. "The Eagles needed interior offensive line depth and Watkins fills that need."
  • Best guesses for the second round? No idea. We shall see if the Eagles, who have moved all over the draft in recent years, make some moves.
  • We will have Mudd in the studio on Friday as well as Watkins, who meets the media at 4 p.m. at the NovaCare Complex.
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